'I was in shock': photographer who captured Packer-Gyngell brawl speaks out

Photographer Brendan Beirne thought he might be lucky to snap a few frames of billionaire James Packer arriving at his Bondi home on Sunday afternoon.

But within five minutes of pulling up outside Packer's multimillion-dollar beachside pad, Beirne was snapping away furiously, not believing the scene that was playing out before his lens.

In photographs captured by Beirne and now seen around the world, Australia's richest man was shown trading blows furiously with the head of the Nine Network, David Gyngell, in a fight that left Packer with a black eye and one of the pair missing a tooth.

"I was in shock. I couldn't believe it because I knew I had shot some pretty powerful pictures of these guys, but it was just so left field, so unexpected,"  Beirne, who co-owns photo agency Media Mode, told Fairfax Media.

"My jaw just dropped. I thought 'Wow, what just happened?' I had no idea why it had gone down or anything."

In fact, so unexpected was the brawl between the long-term friends that Beirne at first thought they were playfighting.

"I thought 'James has met his mate and they're just having a friendly punch', but I pretty quickly realised that wasn't the case," Beirne said.

He estimated the fight only went for three minutes, during which he took about 300 photographs, 50 of which were "good ones". His colleague Sione Chown, who was across the road, captured part of the fracas on video.

They later sold their work to News Corp Australia for an estimated $200,000.

The afternoon turned out very differently to how Beirne had imagined. He had been tipped off that afternoon that Packer had landed at Sydney Airport after an international trip.

"I knew he had landed at the jet base at his private jet earlier so I had been alerted and I was at the house waiting. I had only been there, like, five minutes," Beirne said.

He saw a man he thought may be Gyngell, who was bare foot and sporting a beard, sitting on the back of a car outside Packer's house, but didn't pay much attention.

"He was sitting at the back of his car on the phone, just kind of hanging around looking relaxed. He didn't look like a threat or anything so I didn't really take any notice of what he was doing," Beirne said.

"Then James comes back and his car parks next to him, and as James gets out of his car and walks towards the house he takes a couple of steps and suddenly spins around and they're on each other. It was just totally out of the blue, very unexpected for me."

The fight ended when Packer walked inside and Gyngell drove off "looking pretty relaxed".

"He didn't look like he had just been in a fight," Beirne said.

Another witness, Chris Walker, had just returned home from lunch when a "crazy person out the front of my house starts screaming obscenities".

"In amongst those obscenities was 'I'm going to knock your block off' and 'I'm out the front of your house' and, of course,  that draws anybody to their balcony to see what's going on," Mr Walker said.

From his second-storey balcony across the road from Packer's house, Mr Walker watched as Packer's limousine pulled up beside Gyngell.

"The limo doesn't quite pull up to a stop before the door flings open and Mr Packer's out and Mr Gyngell is running across the footpath, and they are at it like two dogs at each other's throat. Punches flying and people getting hurt," Mr Walker said.

"Then the limo driver jumps out and jumps on Mr Packer's back to try and pull them apart, and the security guy tries to get involved and they all fall down.

"Because everyone was lying on Mr Gyngell, he surrendered and groaned and then they all just slowly moved apart. Mr Packer walked inside and My Gyngell walked over to his car and drove off quite sedately."

Asked who instigated the fight, Mr Walker said: "You know what, I think the first punch was thrown on the telephone".

"It was surreal. At night, drunk people fight in Bondi. It's part of our community culture. It's unfortunate, but it's just part of what happens very late at night in Bondi. But 2 o'clock in the afternoon, a celebrity out the front of their place, that's a stretch. That's new," Mr Walker said.

After Mr Packer went inside and Mr Gyngell drove away, a security guard started looking through the grass, possibly for teeth, where the fight had occurred, Mr Walker said.

"He was obviously looking for something very small and, because it was Mr Packer, I doubt whether it was a $2 coin. I did hear someone hit the concrete wall when they all fell down. Later on somebody did find ... a denture," he said.

Mr Walker, who works as an executive coach to business people, said it was a very sad day.

"It is very sad for leadership in Australia that two people who are supposed to be icons haven't got the wherewithal to take this private," he said.

The story 'I was in shock': photographer who captured Packer-Gyngell brawl speaks out first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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